Social Media for Teaching and Learning

Nearly 8,000 professors were surveyed about their own social media habits, their use of social media as an instructional tool, and their perceptions about the way their students use social media. Pearson* and the Babson Survey Research Group conducted the survey, and Edudemic has posted the results and the infographic below.

Looking the results and thinking about my own experiences, I have a couple of questions.

First, I’d love to know more about how professors are using social media, not just which forms of social media are being used most frequently. In particular, I’m wondering about the intensity of use. Sure, Facebook can be a teaching tool if you accept friend requests from your students; but if you’re holding Facebook chat hours and supervising a class Facebook page where your students are also posting, well, then, you’re really using Facebook as a teaching tool.

As an aside, I’ll share that I recently ran into a professor who joined LinkedIn primarily to connect with alumni of her current institution. Her goal was to find participants for a career panel in order to demonstrate how her department’s major can lead to a variety of exciting careers. Social media: it’s not just for teaching, it’s also for mentoring.

Second, regarding students and social media, this survey hits on something that I’ve been mulling over lately: the tension between the benefit of having students write for a larger audience and the cost in terms of a loss of privacy for the students. It does strike me as reasonable that if we are asking students to wrestle with big ideas, we ought to also allow for the protections that privacy affords as students refine their thoughts. And yet, research demonstrates that writing for an audience beyond the classroom has clear advantages. I’m interested in hearing what others think about this issue.

(click to enlarge)

social media statistics - faculty us climbing, conerns about privacy remain.Source: http://www.edudemic.com/social-media-in-education/

*While Pearson is the company behind LearningStudio (which we use here at TCU), there’s no larger connection between Pearson and this blog post.

Easy Scheduling with Doodle

We’ve reached the point in the semester where it’s time for review sessions, discussions of in-progress projects, and other small-group meetings with students. Suddenly, office hours are getting a lot busier!

Perhaps you’re considering adding extra office hours. But which times? And how will you know that students really intend to come and see you?

Introducing Doodle, an easy, free, online scheduling tool. Best, no account set-up is required for the organizer or the attendees. An organizer simply enters the days and times available for meetings. Additional settings allow for if-need-be dates, confidential replies, limiting the number of time-slot selections attendees can make, and limiting the number of attendees per time slot.

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Schedule availability is then published on the web as an interactive form.

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You can send the link to the Doodle through your own email, or create an account and enter the email addresses of potential attendees to have Doodle send the link automatically. As an aside, if you do create a free account, Doodle will sync with calendars on Outlook, Yahoo, Google, and iCal.

As the organizer, you have a separate link that permits you to edit the Doodle.

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Free accounts have advertising, but the ads are pretty unobtrusive. The premium account allows you to collect email addresses and phone numbers of potential attendees, send reminders, sync with iCloud, and use themed designs.

Of course, there are always those students whose schedules render them unable to attend your office hours. With Doodle, you’ll be able to see that – thanks to the “Cannot make it” button – so you can reach out to those students individually.

Students working on group projects or forming study groups can also use Doodle for their own scheduling purposes. This is a great tool to share with them as you introduce resources to help them with their group projects.

Likewise, Doodle can help you coordinate faculty schedules, making it easy to schedule committee meetings or even meals and meetings on the sidelines of professional conferences.

(h/t NorthStarNerd)

Online Exams in Pearson LearningStudio

First, a secret: although this task goes by the moniker “exam,” you can use a exam content item to give much lower-stakes assessments like weekly quizzes or reading checks. (Hey, I didn’t promise you it would be a juicy secret, did I?)

I’m addressing online exams today as a result of reading a very informative post about online quizzes from the Academic Technology blog at the College of William and Mary. They are a Blackboard school, so the post discusses quizzes in Blackboard – but all of their wise words are equally true for Pearson LearningStudio users here at TCU.

In particular, they list five reasons to use online quizzes: 1) Flipping the classroom’s low-hanging fruit; 2) Easier than clickers; 3) Students do a lot for a few points; 4) Instant gratification; and 5) Self-scoring. I’d encourage you to go and read their supporting points for each reason.

I’d like to address points 1 & 5, however. Using class time efficiently and in a manner that honors each student’s current abilities is always challenging; this is doubly true for prep time. Online quizzes / exams / reading checks give you the opportunity to move the less interactive pieces of instruction out of the classroom, meaning that you can devote your time with the students to more robust and individualized active learning experiences. After all, waiting for that last handful of students to finish their quizzes means that the rest of the class is, well, waiting.

But if I move items online, will students cheat? They key is asking some questions that go beyond rehashing the reading. What would another scholar say about the reading? What piece of evidence did the authors use? What piece of evidence – had it been found – would have falsified or strongly supported the argument? Why did the authors say they did x, y, z? What will happen if a, b, c are not present? Perhaps, in conjunction with your question design, you decide to let students consult course materials in some instances. In this case, you might stress that, while the exam is open book / note, your questions really require students to have read and thought about the content in advance. Of course, no one wants students to treat an exam or quiz as a scavenger hunt through the text. Yet, if students are consulting the reading in order to engage with your well-written, high-quality question, that seems like a reasonable scholarly pursuit.

The LearningStudio exam set-up also has the ability to pull from a question pool (so not all students will see the same questions), to randomize questions (so not all students will see the questions in the same order), to display one question per page, to prevent students from navigating back to earlier questions, to prevent / allow re-takes, and to set a time limit on the exam.

You can, indeed, have LearningStudio auto-grade the exams and auto-post the scores in the gradebook (on that last topic, this is one of our most commonly asked questions regarding exams and the gradebook). Note that you can also have LearningStudio grade the multiple-choice, true / false, and matching questions on an exam and then you can go in and grade the short answer or essay questions. Thus, you might have a two-part question in which the first part requires an answer that can be auto-graded, and the second part asks students to explain why they selected that answer. Bam! Two question reading quiz: done! The larger point, though, is that online exams need not be a fully auto-pilot enterprise: there are options for students to explain their reasoning and for professors to score those elements individually.

Intrigued? Check out our how-to documentation on LearningStudio exams. We also have video guidance on all aspects of LearningStudio exam use. For example, here’s the video on creating exams:

Visual Thinking, Branching Scenarios, and Mind Mapping

What’s the best way to demonstrate the relationship among concepts, key terms, events, significant characters, themes, and other pieces of course content?

Visual representations of your topic can really help students see which items work together and which items are in tension with one another. The tools outlined in this post tilt a little more toward the concept-mapping and diagramming end of things, although they certainly could be used to illustrate digital story elements like branching scenarios and diminishing choices.

I’ve covered a few products below, and Chris Clark at the University of Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning offers a nice discussion of the myriad ways to use graphic organizers and mind maps.

Lucidchart is more of a whiteboard diagramming tool, but it supports Venn diagrams, flowcharts, and site maps, and org charts. Templates (including those for software, network, and systems design), objects, shapes and fonts are provided; you can also upload your own photos and embed documents. LucidChart offers free educational licenses (equivalent to the Team-level premium option in terms of features).

LucidChart is a pretty powerful collaborative option. With this tool, all content is created online and stored in the cloud. This certainly makes collaboration easier, whether your students are working together to build a scenario or whether you are working with colleagues to connect content from various disciplines. All changes appear in real-time and there is no limit to the number of users who can collaborate on a document; conveniently, there is an embedded group chat feature. Revision history is also available. When your work is complete, you can publish to the web or PDF.

Below is a brief Lucidchart demo:

Creately is similar to Lucidchart in that it is also a mapping whiteboard with a variety of export/import, template, and privacy options. Creately also offers desktop software that you can use on your computer if you happen to be offline; the next time you connect to the internet, the software will automatically sync with your content in the cloud. Alas, Creately isn’t free: the cloud-based version costs $5 per month for a single user and $25 for up to 5 users, though the price is reduced for charity or open-source projects. The desktop software bills separately.

Below is a brief Creately demo:

Spicynodes is another diagramming / concept map tool. The emphasis here is more on organization and brevity, quickly displaying relevant information so that a reader scanning the content can locate exactly what she needs. I like that you can integrate images, links, videos, and audio files. Spicynodes also has previous / next arrows in several foreign languages. Alas, it is flash-based, so you’ll want to think about that and device compatibility, depending on how / when you will use spicynodes; Spicynodes is primarily designed to be published online, on a website or blog. The free version allows you to create an unlimited number of node maps, although some of the nice features (in terms of design, privacy controls, and collaboration) are reserved for the paid subscriptions. As other reviewers have noted, the American Association of School Librarians selected SpicyNodes as one of its 2011 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

Here is a sample spicynode (click on the image to be taken to a new page where you can experience the interactive features).

sample spicynode image showing center topic question and related questions

Last, we’ve talked about Prezi before on this blog, but Prezi is also a great tool for allowing learners some choice in how they relate pieces of content to each other. Focusing the branching scenarios and content clusters around topics, themes, characters, situations, diagnoses, etc. lets students actively engage with course content. Here is an example from Ian Beatty showing how a prezi concept map can help introduce students to key course concepts (this was published on Derek Bruff’s blog).


Better yet, Derek’s blog post includes examples of how concept maps can be used at the beginning, middle, and end of a course. This really does seem like great way to share a road map for the course, transition between topics, or synthesize knowledge at the conclusion of the class.

Do you have a favorite digital visualization tool? Or favorite way to use such tools in your course? We’d love to hear about it!

The Students are Coming, the Students are Coming!

These may be the dog days of summer, but the start of school is just around the corner. I don’t mean to be a vacation killjoy: although the first few weeks of the term are busy and stressful, I actually like the excitement and novelty of it all.

In the coming weeks, we’ll have a handful of posts up about relevant back-to-school teaching and technology topics. You can also peruse our entries from last August for posts on everything from Pearson LearingStudio announcements and instructor bios to tips about Google use, uploading audio files, and your syllabus layout. It’s good reading, I promise!

In the meantime, let’s talk about the students.

First, it doesn’t look like the mindset list has been updated yet for the class of 2017, but last year’s list is still there. I promise an update when the new list goes up. As informative and entertaining as the mindset list is, I can’t help but feeling that it also tells us a fair amount about the authors’ own mindsets.

Moving right along, here’s a great graphic illustrating the twelve must-have skills of modern learners.

If students need these skills, this really means that they need to be provided opportunities to practice these skills. How do the big (and small) activities in your courses help students develop these mindsets? Are there ways you could tweak your course activities in order to include one or two of these elements on the way to meeting the course learning objectives?

For example, to give students the opportunity to develop empathy and global stewardship, you might ask them to think about the supply chain for products they are using or the products in their project proposals. What are the ramifications of those choices? Are changes desirable or feasible? To give students practice in developing effective oral and written communication skills, you might consider blogs, tweets, memos, or project pitches as alternatives to the standard papers and presentations.

This list purports to summarize what online students want. However, the key findings – more collaboration, multimedia feedback on a regular schedule, and clear waypoints and guidelines – need not be limited to online or blended learning students. In fact, I think these would be helpful for all students. Best, the brief article lists some concrete ways that instructors can incorporate the above practices.

With all the discussion of digital natives, it’s easy to assume that students are already experts in the learning technologies you are using in your course. This isn’t always the case. In fact, one the questions we are asked most frequently is how students view instructor comments in the Pearson LearningStudio gradebook. In general, without over-explaining or talking down to your students, it’s safest to assume that they may not be familiar with all the features of whatever digital resources you’re using; this goes for first-generation college students and others. As the instructor, you’ll want to provide a basic introduction, and then make sure that help and how-to documentation is available as students set out to work independently.

In closing, I want to share with you this intriguing TEDx video on the fallacy of designing courses with the average student in mind. The speaker is Todd Rose, faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Rose reviews the experience of the U.S. Air Force in designing fighter planes: after intensive research, the Air Force discovered there was no such thing as an “average” fighter pilot. You see where this is going, right? Rose has some great insights about how damaging the notion of “average” is for learners and how we can best nurture the potential of every individual in the classroom.

If you want to think about Rose’s points further, David Hopkins has a nice slide comparing the average fighter pilot and the average student.

Xtranormal is Ending

We’ve discussed the animation-creation website Xtranormal a few times. Now it looks like Xtranormal will be no more (at least not in the way it was). Xtranormal, we hardly knew ye. Where else will we get our snarky videos about awkward social situations?

You have until July 31st to complete any Xtranormal projects and download all your content.

Go!Animate is a reasonable alternative; you might also consult this list of Five Innovative Animation Tools.

Animations remain a great way to introduce a topic, start a discussion based on a model scenario, or highlight other applications of course content. You or your students can easily create animations. Generally, one begins by selecting, creating, or uploading avatars and backgrounds; then typing in the text the avatars will speak; and last adding other effects (music, captions, links, etc.).